Lexington, Ky., Mayor Jim Gray announced his bid for the state's 6th Congressional District Tuesday during a televised speech. Gray, who came out one year before his successful 2006 campaign for vice mayor of Lexington, has served as the city's mayor for six years.
"We need more leaders in Congress who are willing to bring people together to solve problems and protect the American dream for all hardworking Kentuckians," Gray said in a statement. "That’s what I’ve done as mayor, and that’s what I’ll do in Congress."
Vying for Republican Rep. Andy Barr's seat, Gray faces Marine Corps veteran Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, who announced her bid in August, as well as Sen. Reggie Thomas in May's primary election.
For his opening campaign remarks, Gray highlighted hot-button issues in national politics — framing Kentuckians as left behind.
“Healthcare costs are rising. The price of a good education is as high as ever. Wages aren’t growing fast enough to keep up,” Gray said. “And Washington is too broken to solve these problems because of partisan politicians like Andy Barr who vote the way their party tells them, not the way that’s best for Kentucky.”
Gray made history in 2016 as the first openly gay man to win a major party's nomination for U.S. Senate, with 58.7 percent of Kentucky's primary vote. According to Politico, Gray received over 40 percent of the primary vote in 114 out of the state's 120 counties, resting in the thirty-percentile range in the remaining six: Pendleton, Martin, Kenton, Gallatin, Campbell, and Boone.
Facing former presidential hopeful and Republican incumbent Rand Paul earlier this year in the general election, Gray lost by just under 15 percent in early August, according to The New York Times. As Republican strategist Scott Jennings detailed in 2016, "the last time a Kentucky Democrat running for a statewide federal office eclipsed 50 percent of the vote" was in 1992.
Barr won Kentucky's 6th District seat in 2016 with just over 61 percent of the vote over opposition Nancy Jo Kemper. But the state's only current Democratic congressman, Rep. John Yarmuth, has hope for Gray.
“I’ve had several conversations with him,” Yarmuth said in early November when asked if Gray would consider a bit for Congress over his last term as Lexington's mayor. "… I’m encouraging him to run.”
While some are concerned Gray's prior positions as mayor of Lexington and CEO of his family's prosperous contruction company, Gray Construction, may interfere with the rank and file nature of Congress, Yarmuth doesn't see a reason to worry.
"I think he certainly understands that there's a huge difference in the role," he told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Watch Gray's speech below.